So I was reading the religion section of our local paper on Saturday, and there it was: an Associated Press article titled, "End of days in May?" Tom Breen has the byline. Seems that some 89 year old retired civil engineer named Harold Camping has it all figured out. Drum roll please: Jesus is coming again on May 21, 2011, and Camping's disciples (as you can see from the adjoining picture) are out spreading the word. Please, sir, not again! Camping believes the Bible essentially functions as a cosmic calendar explaining exactly when variouis prophecies will be fulfilled. He claims that events like the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 are signs confirming his date. Good luck with that, bro—I don't know how many modern false prophets have hedged their timetables on Israel's founding in 1948 only to end up with egg on their faces. We just never learn, I guess.
Reading the article brought back memories of Edgar Whisenant's book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Whisenant was also a retired engineer and he was certain from his timetables that Jesus would come to rapture the church sometime between September 11 and 13, 1988, coinciding with the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah. I was a pastor in suburban Kansas City at the time, and that book was all the rage. A pastor and his church in a neighboring community became so enamored with it, so convinced of its truth, that some people in the church quit their jobs, spent their life savings, and put their pets to sleep. People in my own congregation asked me for my take on the matter. So the Sunday before the predicted dates I preached a sermon entitled, "Why the Rapture Won't Happen This Week." Of course, the very fact you're reading this blog is a stark rebuke to Whisenant's prediction. He was wrong. And then the dude had the nerve to come back in 1989 and write another book saying he miscalculated and was a year off—Jesus was coming back in 1989 instead. Good grief!
Whisenant joined a long list of false-predictors. I predict Harold Camping will join that list come May 22, 2011. Why is it that some of us just have a hard time accepting Jesus' statement on the matter: "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone … Be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming …" (Mark 13:32, 35). And when the disciples had a question about such things just before Jesus' ascension, He said, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has set by his own authority …" (Acts 1:7). We don't know. We can't know. We're not supposed to know. I guess the desire to know is just another echo of Eden: this desire to be like God, this craving to know what God knows.
Some might say that these predictors are no big deal. Their dates come and go and they are heard from no more. There's truth in that, but here's the problem: such phony predictions over and over again turn the Christian's "blessed hope" into a sideshow. They disillusion people who put their hope in the so-called prophet instead of in the Lord. And to a skeptical world, these false predictions and their disciples make the church look just plain silly.
Really, we've got all we need to know about these things in the Bible. Ezekiel and Daniel and Isaiah and Jesus and John are good enough for me. We don't need Edgar Whisenant or Harold Camping or Hal Lindsay or Jack Van Impe or any of these so-called prophecy experts to tell us how it's going to all come down. These people seem to stir up one of two pathological conditions in regard to Christ's second coming: apocalyptic fever for the folks who just have to be in the know, or apocalyptic atrophy for those who are so turned off by such imaginative interpretation and speculation that they refuse to even think about Christ's return. Let me suggets a better way, a prescription for these apocalyptic maladies—let's focus on what we do know about Jesus' return, let's focus on what the Bible says: Jesus is coming again; we don't know just when, so let's be ready for Him now.